Silicon, Alfalfa, and Water (And T. J. Rodgers)

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Reflections on Samsung's announcement that it is replacing its 2-story building on North First Street with a 10 Story building and what that implies for resources, especially water.

 

Samsung is building a new, ten-story building at their current site in San Jose at the corner of Tasman and North First Street. (The existing building is 2 stories.) They sent me an invitation to the groundbreaking June 10. This makes me think about Alfalfa, water, and some photos I took along North First Street the better part of a quarter century ago.

In 1990, I was working at Cypress Semiconductor, which had offices and a fab about a block up the street from Tasman.   In those days, at lunchtime, Cypress CEO T. J. Rodgers would don his trademark, red, white, and blue running shorts and take a couple-mile run around the neighborhood.  It helped him think and deal with stress.

In those days, that whole area between the Guadalupe River and Milpitas and from Montague to the 237 freeway was evolving from farmland into industry, mostly semiconductor. The growth was most obvious on North First, but there were still some alfalfa fields along T. J’s running routes.  Which is why I got the order one day to take my camera and shoot some pictures of Alfalfa fields, preferably while the irrigation sprinklers were running.  T. J. had discovered he had a bone to pick with the State of California, and was going to use The San Jose Mercury News to do it.

T. J. Rodgers was and is the most PR-savvy chief executive I have come across, and one of the personas he projected in the media was the besieged entrepreneur being done wrong by government idiots.  In this case, he had realized, while running, that the owners of those fields were watering their alfalfa with subsidized water, while Cypress, which used a great deal of water in back-end processing at Fab 1, was paying big-city rates.  Essentially, T. J. felt, he was supporting a bunch of land speculators who were paying their property taxes by selling alfalfa irrigated with water for which they paid the same rates as real farmers in the San Joaquin Valley.

(What was Cypress doing with its water?  Much of it was washing leadframes for DIP-packaged SRAMs and PLDs  -- and the lead was recovered – but it was a heck of a lot of water.)

Anyway, the story, with my photos, ran in the Merc, T. J. continued to build his persona, and I don’t think any of it affected the speculator/farmers of North First Street.

All of which brings me back to Samsung.  Assuming a 4x increase in headcount as their building rises from 2 to 10 stories, and assuming similar growth up and down the street, that’s a big new influx of people. The good news is that's a light-rail nexus, with trains coming from Milpitas, Mountain View, and South of downtown San Jose.  Also, there's a heck of a lot of new apartment buildings gone up within a short radius, along with new retail, so people can live close by and change jobs when necessary.

But I wonder where the water’s going to come from.  How much did that alfalfa use?

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Don Tuite

Don Tuite covers Analog and Power issues for Electronic Design’s magazine and website. He has a BSEE and an M.S in Technical Communication, and has worked for companies in aerospace,...
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